Dealing with an active shooter event feels undeniably horrifying. Knowing that a student is out there all alone creates an overwhelming sense of darkness descending. As bad as that is, emergency responders, administrators, and risk managers must be prepared to teach, train, and deal with this scenario.
Active shooter events are, by their nature, extremely unpredictable. That means that when one occurs, our students could be in any number of places on our school campuses. They could be at recess, in the bathroom, or walking between classes. Often when I set up drills that simulate active shooters, I will ask upper-grade students to be in the bathroom. This tests if they know what to do when faced with this horrific event by themselves and gives staff a challenge.
Have a Plan for Survival
This circumstance is terrifying for a teacher to consider. The bravest among us may run out and try to retrieve students at these isolated locations. And that is assuming we know they are there. In this situation, we advise teachers and staff to lock their doors and concentrate on the students directly present and under their care. Do not open that door unless you have received a verified all-clear from law enforcement or a school official such as the principal. Do not leave the students in your care to locate a stranded student.
Here is a video with further details about handling this tricky situation. Watch the video
Instead, we must rely on having a plan for survival for our students. They need to understand the basics of run-hide-fight. Left on their own, they must decide whether it’s safe to run or hide. A correctly implemented survival plan should give them the know-how to make that decision.
What Should Stranded Students Do?
One bit of good news here is that mass shooters tend to look for groups of people rather than one or two individuals. They are looking to harm as many innocent people as possible, so they look in areas where large numbers of students gather. This is typically the classroom, auditorium, cafeteria, and so forth. Bathrooms and less-populated areas on school campuses and typically are not primary targets.
Knowing where the best hiding spaces on campus are is vital. These should be spots students can easily get to if they are stranded. In the bathroom, we tell students to do the traditional, Hollywood-style stand-and-squat on the toilet, lock the stall door, and be extremely quiet. If you can determine with some accuracy where the shooter is, and you have the opportunity to run off campus or to a better hiding location, you should do so. Should you be out in the athletic fields, you may have the ability to leave the campus quickly by exiting through a gate.
Prepare for It
It takes training and a lot of practice to deal with a stranded student scenario. This may not be the most common circumstance in an active shooter event, but you must consider it as you develop your emergency response plan. Take the time to evaluate your campus properly to identify areas where stranded students may gravitate to. Make sure your staff and students are familiar with the run-hide-fight protocol.